March 19, 2006
By Dwight Reynolds
On Matthew 21:12-27
Today’s scripture reading show a side to our Lord than many may find odd or confusing.
Let's examine the background that led up to this incident and lesson, if you will, for all of us.
We know that this incident, which I will call a lesson on house cleaning, or "how to get your house in order", is also stated in the other Gospels of Mark, Luke and John.
Each of the Gospels tells of this lesson in different ways.
Let's remember that Mark may have been written near AD 60 and it likely was the first Gospel written. At the time, Christians were under severe persecution; therefore, this was written for a Gentile audience.
"On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overtuned the tables... and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And he taught them...`It is written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.'" [This refers to Isaiah 56:7: .".. their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."]
Luke was a physician and gentile who likely wrote this after AD 70. It tells how the Messiah is the savior of the whole world.
"Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling...`It is written', he said, `my house will be a house of prayer...'"
It was written from AD 70 to 95. John also wrote three epistles and the book of Revelation. This book is about Jesus as the giver of life and a meditation on the significance of his death.
"When it was time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. ...He said, `Get out of here. How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!' His disciples remembered that it is written..."zeal for your house will consume me. Then the Jews demanded ... `What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?' Jesus told them ...`Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.' Then the Jews replied... `it has taken 46 year to build...and you are going to raise it in three days?'
But the temple he had spoken of was his body!
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."
What is it that Jesus wants us to do? How are we to "clean our house, get things in order"?
We can look at Exodus 20:1-17. The Ten Commandments show us in #'s 1-3 the fundamental things about being faithful people of God. The 4th teaches the principle of rest, and #'s 5-10 teach about mutual respect. We are commanded to respect human life, marriage relationships, personal property and even our neighbor's reputation. We are also challenged to not desire or covet anything that belongs to our neighbors.
My firends, everything Jesus rejected in the temple was put there, at first, with the best of intentions. It was put there to help people who came to the temple to seek God's will for their lives and to thank him for his love.
Yet it was wrong.
What had started as a good thing, had become an evil thing. The temple had become a place that exploited the need for salvation, rather than a place that furthered it.
And I wonder...
I wonder if there are still today some things that provoke Jesus to that kind of anger?
I wonder if there are some things that have to be driven out of our lives and out of the lives of our churches and our communities, because instead of bringing us closer to God, they prevent us from meeting him?
The story is told about an old man who lay very ill. A friend came to see him, and after talking for a while, asked him, "In your long life, have you any regrets?" The old man's mind was away back in his childhood. "When I was a boy," he said, "I often used to play with my school friends out by the roadside. One day, after my chums had gone away, I found at the corner of the road an old rickety signpost. I twisted it in its socket, so that its pointer arms pointed in the wrong direction. Just today, for some reason or other, I've been wondering how many travelers I sent that day on the wrong road."
How many people today are being sent on the wrong road? Not by a child playing a foolish game, but by adults, Christian adults, either misunderstanding, or misrepresenting, the Christian faith?
We see all around us the commercialization of religion, the exploiters who cash in on our needs for forgiveness and a loving word. Those who ask for money so that God will bless them.
This is a perversion of the faith. The easiest one to detect and the easiest to criticize, and I could keep you here for hours talking about the modern merchants in the temple:
The temple merchants are easy to see; they misrepresent our faith and steer people down the wrong road.
Harder to see is the desecration of the temple of God through false teaching and false example—the teachings that make our God the goddess of success instead of Yahweh, the God who sides with the weak and suffers with the oppressed.
We see this desecratin whenever faith is equated to winning, to getting ahead, or to personal satisfaction.
There are so many people who come to church, not to listen for God's guidance, not to thank God, but because they think that if they come, somehow it will ensure them of God's blessings, that it will protect them, and guarantee that on the day of judgment they will be on the right side, standing with the sheep instead of with the goats.
They keep the law of God, not because it represents God's guidance for our lives, but because they think that if they obey, they will win something.
And while there is an element of truth ot the idea that God prospers those who follow h is law, there is also a great sadness to the fact that some folks keep the law only for what it will gain them.
What do we need to have cleansed from our lives?
What ideas and practices need to go if we are to truly meet God in the temples of our own bodies and in our temples of stone, brick and wood?
We all have an amazing tendency to take stuff that is good and make it more important and more necessary than it really is, or possibly can be.
What have we taken that is good, and made into our god? Turning it from a thing that brings us closer to salvation, to a thing that impedes it?
Have we reduced our faith to business and success on one hand, and law and ritual on the other, so that there ends up being nothing different, nothing unique, nothing holy about it?
Has our faith b ecome like everything else, some kind of commercial transaction?
So many people are misled, seeing faith as do's and don'ts, as a matter of "how big a sacrifice can or should I make to take care of everything?"
But what we give the church, or the evangelists, or what we do to obey God does not take care of everything.
Nor does following the ten commandments, or even praying in ta certain way take care of everything.
It is the cross that takes care of everything. It is the love of God, his love for us and ours for him.
The cross of Jesus saves us, not our rituals.
The resurrection beyond that cross redeems us, not our inadequate obedience.
That is the point of dialogue that occurs between Jesus and the authorities after his rampage: When they ask him what sign he will perform to justify his behavior and he replies:
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." No one understood his words then, but later, after the resurrection, the disciples remembered them, and understood.
They understood that Jesus was the temple, that in him they met God and talked to God and experienced God's love and forgiveness.
They remembered how he touched people and spoke to them,
How he feed the hungry and gave sight to the blind,
How he put truth and justice in their right places,
And gave peace and joy to those who came near him.
They remembered these things, and they remembered his words, and they looked at his death and resurrection, and they knew that Jesus was the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
What in our lives prevents us from knowing him?
The power and presence of God is not found in the rituals and observances of our churches, but in an encounter with the living Christ, an encounter we can only have through faith and trust and openness to the Spirit of the one who is revealed and spoken of in this place.
Let us all be in a mindset and ask for Christ to clear our hearts as he cleared the temple and ask that he may guide us in God's way.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them, there is great reward. We give thanks to God for His love and for the law He gives us to guide us in His ways. Help us to live as He has shown us. (Psalm 19:7-11)
We ask God to help us to discern those things in our lives that stand in the way of more perfectly fulfilling His will for us to help our church show to the world the wisdom and the glory of living in obedience to Him.
We ask God to set us free in Jesus to live by the law of the spirit and of life, but not all people know or accept the word we proclaim, to move in the hearts of those around us who resist His will, and keep safe those who testify to them, and to bless all those who have taken up the ministry He has called them to and bring new light and new hope to those around them.
We know that the Lord works for the good for those who believe. We need to pray for those who do not believe: for our neighbors who think that goodness is a matter of what they want to do; for our corporations and businesses that judge morality by what brings them greater profit; and for our lawmakers and our politicians who create legislation according to what is popular instead of what is right.
And as we prepare to go forth, we ask the Lord, help us to remember you and minister to all. Bless those who mourn, those who are humble and poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and all those who cry out to Him for truth and justice. We especially need to remember those we have named in our time of sharing.
In this 3rd Sunday in Lent, we learn a great lesson. Let's not forget that we will know the love of God who sent Jesus to suffer on the cross, not when we escpe suffering, but when we embrace the suffering of others.
This was written by Paul in AD 53-55. It is a response to the Corinthian church 3 to 4 years after he established a church in Corinth.
"For the message of the corss is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God." In other words, we are to seek a relationship in humility. As it is written, we are to come to Him as a child. As we were told in the Scripture reading in Matthew and as we see in Psalm 8:2 where it says ..."from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise".
In this season of Lent, we're encouraged to examine our individual lives and our corporate life together. Do any of our "private" or "church" concerns overshadow the greater mission of making God's house a place of prayer for all peoples?
Do you have hour house in Order? Amen!